The Healthy Youth Initiative
Fr. Joseph Purpura, Chairman of the Department of Youth and Parish Ministries, and Kh. Kathleen Purpura, Youth Consultant and Executive Director of OCCHY, work with the White House Director of the Drug Free Communities Program, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the staff of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), and local coalition leaders to establish substance prevention coalitions across America. The Healthy Youth initiative offers communities an opportunity to heighten awareness of how to combat substance abuse, prevent bullying, encourage sexual abstinence outside of marriage, and encourage respect for the sanctity of the human body.
OCCHY is developing local community networks to address substance abuse prevention and healthy living in parishes of each diocese. Each local chapter is trained in coalition building in their community. Local chapter members are a resource in training and developing coalitions beyond their geographic area by helping other parishes within their diocese, other Orthodox Christian jurisdictions and other faith-based communities. By developing a model for faith-based coalition building, we are establishing, training, and leading substance abuse prevention and intervention coalitions across America.
Tucson's Healthy Youth Ministry
Socially, politically, educationally … we continually hear reports and read articles about how policies will affect the next generation. For example, we constantly hear about the national debt and the impact it will have on today’s youth as they reach adulthood. It was Herbert Hoover who once said: “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”
In the Orthodox Church we are concerned for the physical and social well-being of our neighbors, particularly our children. Yet Orthodox concern for our youth, both in our churches and our communities, extends particularly to spiritual concerns as well. Just as our national debt is growing uncontrollably, spiritual poverty is rising exponentially. This is well-documented in the instance of substance abuse and its devastating effects among young people.
As parish priest this has been a particular concern on two accounts: 1) Substance abuse among Orthodox young people; and 2) Orthodox Church ministry to the larger local community.
How do we as a local Orthodox Parish minister to young people in this arena? Of course, the fundamental arena is life in the spiritual warfare as preserved for us and handed down by our Church Fathers. Those outside the Church are completely unfamiliar with this “Way.” And those in the Church are often without insight and awareness. Thus, there is continual prayer, teaching and encouragement to follow Christ on the path of Orthodox spirituality.
Some are in the fold, engaged in the spiritual life. Others are lost sheep, particularly as relates to substance abuse. How can we better reach these lost sheep?
With these concerns generally in mind, I was drawn to a particular seminar at the July 2011, Antiochian National Convention in Chicago. One of the seminars offered was a presentation on Orthodox Christian Coalition for Healthy Youth. The session dealt not with substance abuse treatment but with how a parish might influence the community environment in the area of substance abuse among young people. This was intriguing.
Upon returning to Tucson I began to discuss possibilities of establishing OCCHY in our parish. I had no idea how that might happen: I prayed and talked. A small fire was ignited. A parishioner and her husband carried the torch. Within weeks the East Tucson Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition was formed. The first public general meeting was September 30, 2011. A number of Orthodox and non-Orthodox community members attended. From September 2011 until now, the East Tucson Coalition has continued to develop. Establishment of a Youth Advisory Committee (involving Orthodox and community youth); substance abuse town hall meetings; and development of the 2012 Orthodox Youth Survey are among the activities. With the guidance of Fr. Joseph Purpura and Kh. Kathleen Purpura, the Coalition submitted a grant application to SAMHSA.
Regardless of grant funding outcome, the East Tucson Coalition has become established giving us the opportunity to serve the larger community in the area of substance abuse prevention.
From a clergy standpoint, the process over the past year has been very positive. Fr. Joseph and Kh. Kathleen have provided every kind of support needed to establish and develop the coalition.
Fr. Philip Nixon
Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church
On behalf of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church and OCCHY-Tucson, Fr. Philip Nixon was recognized at the Sewell Elementary School Celebration for their part in the effort to save the school.
Recent deliberations by Tucson’s Unified School District governing board, relating to school closings, forced concerned citizens and the devoted members of the Orthodox Christian Coalition for Healthy Youth (OCCHY – Tucson) to take action. Fr. Philip Nixon and many community residents lobbied to keep the Sewell Elementary School open.